After wild weather lashed the east coast this weekend, many people are facing a significant cleanup task ahead – but health considerations, particularly asthma, need to be front of mind.
AJP spoke to National Asthma Council Australia Director and spokesperson Stephen Hughes, a pharmacist who says that winter is often a challenging time anyway for those who are allergic to mould in particular – and even more so after flood waters recede.
“One of the major triggers for asthma is mould, so that’s really something we need to be clearly cognisant of,” he says.
“Asthma is underlying inflammation of the airways, so sometimes it can be additive triggers that lead to an attack. If your load of mould in a house is starting to increase, you’ve got underlying asthma anyway and you get hit with a virus or something, a winter cold, then you’re less prepared.
“Once you spring a few leaks and the relative humidity gets up to about 100%, things aren’t going to dry out anyway.”
He says that both older and newer houses in Sydney in particular – Hughes is from Petersham and says “we got very, very wet” – face different types of challenges, with newer energy efficient dwellings causing dry air, another trigger.
“In a lot of the older houses, we tend to live by the seasons – you open the house up and let the air come through, which allows the house to dry out, but once you start having that cooler weather you tend to lock up a lot more.
“So the issue with relative humidity is that you heat it up, and once the air cools down after that the moisture comes out on the walls, and that’s where you get your moulds.
“If you have a reverse cycle air conditioner, you can put it on the dry setting – it’s a great dehumidifier, and takes the moisture out of the air. As pharmacists we could encourage people to do that, and make use of their ventilation fans. These are really important with drying clothes, bathrooms and cooking.”
He cautions that cleaning up mould after flooding or a particularly damp spell needs to be done with caution, particularly if products containing volatile organic compounds are used.
He suggests using the National Asthma Council’s Sensitive Choice range or natural fermented vinegars, avoiding being in a small room with a lot of chemicals, or having a person without asthma do the cleanup.
Hughes says that post-flooding asthma and allergy is “another in” for pharmacists to change the conversation about asthma.
“So the conversation could be: ‘There’s lots of mould around, is that a trigger for you?’
“You might not even know if mould is a trigger, so it could be, “Are you being affected by your asthma at the moment? Are you prepared for winter?’”
Tips from the State Emergency Operations Centre
Police and emergency services are urging people in flood-affected areas to ensure health and safety are maintained when cleaning up during the flood, and when it recedes.
“The effects of the cleanup can be just as dangerous as the floods themselves and we are appealing to the communities impacted by the floods to take all precautions and listen to advice of the emergency service agencies,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Kyle Stewart says.
- Thorough hand washing after contact with flood contaminated materials;
- Wearing gloves; and
- Avoiding contact between cuts or abrasions and flood water or contaminated materials.
- As a precaution, people should treat all floodwater as potentially contaminated with sewage.
- Keep children away from flood affected areas and avoid all unnecessary contact with mud and floodwaters.
- Ensure feet are covered if they are likely to come into contact with mud and always wear gloves when handling flood affected items or mud.
- Children’s toys affected by floodwater should be discarded if they are soft toys or moulded plastic toys with air injection holes. Solid toys should be disinfected before allowing children to play with them.